Volcano Choir – Repave
Released: September 3, 2013
Producer: Justin Vernon
Genre: Indie, Ambient, Experimental, Post-Rock
Justin Vernon has a lot of projects going on. The music that he makes as Bon Iver, leaves itself wide open to interpretation. But, it’s definitely “serious”. No one ever classifies it as “fun music”. On this second Volcano Choir LP called Repave, I think they chose a lighter, more fun approach. This is an arena-rock, grand experimental post-rock album that is undeniable in beauty and lyrical majesty.
Well let me add something to that previous statement. Fun, a bit stoned. Cause it must be really fun to play the thumb pianos when you’re stoned and indulging in the least accessible ideas. “With enough kif/ you can really bore someone” is the most straightforward and sound advice you’ll get from Vernon, though he sings it with chesty zeal on “Byegone” like it’s a regal proclamation. They seem to be less concerned in getting high and more interested achieving some kind of spiritual status and uplift, while getting the listener to feel some of that too.
The whole album can be described as “Power Balladry” (I know its a bit tacky), drawing stuff from 1980s most popular and a touch their own in it. The album opens up with a perfect overdriven organ and booming drums, while Vernons falsetto towers over the whole of “Tiderays” where Brian Eno and Genesis meet. The “Byegone” comes with its grizzly folke-tuned aura where Arcade Fire might have something to do with that. You can guess from the album cover what feelings and emotions Volcano Choir are trying to evoke, but with such magical and cohesive aesthetics in this album, they definitely don’t need that cover to prove their point. Most of the songs begin and end in a quiet manner so when those crescendos it, you can almost envision the waves crashing onto one another, and when Vernon rises up to his falsettos its almost like the seagulls are startled and are flying away from that crash. But there never is a feeling of reaching shore anywhere in Repave.
THAT, is the very definition of a “power ballad”. An intimate, almost gentle song, blown to a proportion where you have to call it epic, and in the end everyone identifies with that song to the point they think it was written for them. Instrumentally, its as though Volcano Choir took the most booming parts of every Bon Iver song and made an album out of them. They still use their tricky guitars but polished and shined to the point where you no longer recognize that that’s the same guitar that Vernon uses for “Skinny Love”. Their sound shifts from folky to majestic, grand and “churchy”. As if to say every sound they make and evoke a place; that place is THE place. If it’s a canyon, it’s the Grand Canyon. If it’s church, it’s the Vatican! My point is Repave sounds so amazing, beautiful and full of that Bon Iver clarity that its almost intimidating. Even when the last two tracks, “Keel” and “Almanac” start to differ a bit from the rest.
The album is more a visual really than a sound. As he explained to Ryan Dombal of Pitchfork, Volcano Choir doesn’t just sound romantic or like make-out music, it’s distinctly sexual. When he sings “We’re talkin’ real love” in a seductive lower register on “Alaskans”, it’s like the drums were removed so you can hear the adulation of the crowd in your mind.
The real heaviness of Repave comes from its lyrics. Had Vernon done away with lyrics completely and gone Wisconsin Hopelandic on us, Repave might be worthy of being called the third Bon Iver album, which it sorta is– the majestic choruses of “Tiderays” and “Comrade” are way more in line with Bon Iver’s “Perth” or “Calgary” than anything on Unmap (their first album as Volcano Choir). But too often, Vernon’s lyrics range from puzzling to utterly too goofy to ignore, creating a discomfiting dissonance with the stone cold sobriety of the music.
At one time Vernon explained that they carnality of the lyrics is essential in explaining ate evoking that intimidating feeling that he wants to achieve through indie rock: “It’s been built up so hard and so high that people are afraid…I’m talking about how what happens between people is so misunderstood even between the people who are having sex. Maybe some of the lyrics on this record are my way of cracking the egg.” Repave is a very realistically sexualized record but not in the way he envisioned. Sometimes its too tangled up in loopinnes and obscurity that undermines the entire album. One false move and its all down. All in all its worth a listen or two. Especially it’s centerpiece, “Comrade” (watch below):